San Francisco Bay Area Friday Morning News Roundup

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BART Strike Could Begin Monday

BART workers have delivered a 72-hour strike notice to BART management, according to a union representative.

A potential strike could begin as early as Monday morning, as the unions' contracts with BART expire Sunday.

Union officials will host a press event to answer questions at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland this morning at 10 a.m.

Gang Members Stand Trial

Two reputed gang members were ordered Thursday to stand trial on murder and premeditated attempted murder charges for a drive-by shooting in East Oakland two years ago that left 3-year-old Carlos Nava dead and two men wounded.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon issued his ruling in the three-day preliminary hearing for suspected shooter Lawrence Denard, 28, and suspected driver Willie Torrence, 24, after Oakland police Lt. Tony Jones said he believes the shooting was gang-related.

The defendants are accused of opening fire outside a grocery store in a strip mall in the 6400 block of International Boulevard at about 1:10 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2011.

Testifying as an expert witness on gangs, Jones said he believes Denard and Torrence are members of the 69th Village gang and the two men who were wounded, 39-year-old Robert Hudson and Jerome Williams, are members of the rival 65th Village gang.

The two gangs operate out of housing complexes that are located between near the scene of the shooting, he said.

After Carlos was fatally shot, an incident that outraged many community members, Oakland police said they believed he was not an intended target because he and his family, who were shopping at the time, had no connection to the two men who were struck.

Jones said the manner in which the shooting occurred had all the hallmarks of a drive-by gang-related shooting because it was carried out in broad daylight and shots were fired "indiscriminately into a crowd."

Jones, who said he grew up in the area and has investigated gangs throughout his 19-year career with the Oakland Police Department, said he believes Denard and Torrence were trying to send a message that members of the 65th Village gang "are not safe anywhere" because the shooting occurred in 65th Village turf in the middle of the day.

He said he believes Denard and Torrence were trying to boost their standing in the 69th Village gang by carrying out the shooting because "the respect it will command is real."

The area between 65th and 69th avenues near International Boulevard used to be considered "one neighborhood" at one time but the 65th Village and 69th Village factions have been feuding since at least 1995 and there have been many retaliatory shootings in the 6400 block of International Boulevard since 2000, according to Jones.

Man Found Guilty of Embezzling PTA Funds

A former financial secretary for a San Jose public school Parent Teacher Association has been charged with embezzling $27,000 from a PTA fund, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

Keith Michael Dennis, 44, of San Jose, is charged with forging checks for expenses claimed from PTA fundraisers and field trips that never took place, Deputy District Attorney Judy Lee said.

The charges filed against Dennis include grand theft, embezzlement and two counts of forgery, Lee said.

A warrant for Dennis' arrest was issued last week and he surrendered for booking on Wednesday and is now out of custody, Lee said.

Prosecutors alleged that Dennis siphoned money from a PTA fund for the Lynhaven Elementary School at 881 S. Cypress Ave. in San Jose that was intended for student activities and other purposes, Lee said.

Dennis, a parent of students at Lynhaven, had once served as a substitute teacher at the school and was the school PTA's volunteer financial secretary from Oct. 1, 2009 to Oct. 31, 2012, Lee said.

The district attorney's office started an investigation last year after a PTA auditor told San Jose police that thousands of dollars were missing and that Dennis may be responsible, Lee said.

The office's investigator discovered some PTA bank checks, which required two signatures, included the forged signature of the PTA's president, Lee said.

Dennis is alleged to have signed the checks in order to reimburse himself for a printer, a cookie dough fundraiser, school logo clothing and other things that were not due him, Lee said.

He also was supposed to have deposited hundreds of dollars collected from PTA fundraisers but ended up depositing only $16, Lee said.

The amount of money lost by the PTA was estimated at $27,000, however that amount might increase or decrease as the investigation progresses, Lee said.

Dennis will be arraigned on the charges in about two weeks and could be sentenced to four years and four months in the Santa Clara County Mail Jail if he is convicted of the charges, Lee said.

"Tamale Lady" Seeks To Restore Business

San Francisco's "Tamale Lady," who was banned earlier this month from selling her famous food at local restaurants, Thursday launched a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign to set up a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the city's Mission District.

Virginia Ramos, 60, is seeking to raise $155,000 via an Indiegogo account to sell her famous tamales out of her own restaurant.

Ramos was told earlier this month that, because of city health codes, she could no longer sell the food at the popular Valencia Street restaurant Zeitgeist and elsewhere as she had over the past 20 years.

San Francisco Department of Public Health spokeswoman Eileen Shields said issues arose over liability since restaurants would be responsible for any health issues from food cooked outside the restaurant but sold inside.

David Campos, a member of the city's Board of Supervisors whose district includes the Mission, joined the "Tamale Lady" for Thursday's announcement.

Campos said he has worked with Ramos after he received hundreds of calls and emails from constituents concerned about what would happen to her business.

With Campos translating her words from Spanish to English, Ramos said she wanted to keep going because "it's not just about selling tamales, but being with the young people."

She said she hoped she would be able to raise the money because San Francisco "is a very unique city, people have a heart here."

Having turned 60 just last week, Ramos said that a solution that involved her continuing to walk all around the city was not as enticing as having her own brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Campos said he was looking with Ramos for possible locations for the restaurant. "We're very flexible," he said.

"We're not looking for anything fancy," adding that some sort of food truck option was also still being considered.

"Everything's on the table and we're still open to possibilities," he said.

If the $155,000 is raised, $5,000 would go to the Indiegogo website while the rest would combine with money Ramos has already saved up to start the restaurant.

If more than that total was raised, Campos said the excess funds would go to the Jamestown Community Center, which provides after-school and summer programs for Mission District youth.

The supervisor encouraged bar patrons who may have bought food from the Tamale Lady to help her pursue her dream of running her own restaurant.

"This is a time for the entire city to come together," Campos said. "San Francisco would not be San Francisco, at least the city we want it to be, if the 'Tamale Lady' is displaced and she is no longer able to have her business."

People interesting in donating can visit

Gang Murder Sentenced 70 Years for Murder

A reputed gang member was sentenced Thursday to 70 years to life in state prison for the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old Newark High School student and football star Justice Afoa and attempting to murder his girlfriend and her unborn child.

Prosecutor Elgin Lowe alleged that Daniel Howard, a 31-year-old trucker from Fremont, was one of two people who fatally stabbed Afoa near the intersection of Cedar Boulevard and Birch Street in Newark at about 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2010.

Afoa was a defensive lineman at Newark Memorial High School and made second team all-league in the Mission Valley Athletic League in the 2009 season.

In addition to being convicted of murdering Afoa, Howard was found guilty of committing the crime to benefit a criminal street gang.

Howard also was convicted of two counts of premeditated attempted murder for trying to kill his girlfriend and her unborn child in a separate incident in Fremont on Nov. 25, 2012.

Rafael Tovar, a 32-year-old batch mixer from Newark, and Tovar's sister Daniela Guzman, 19, of Newark, also are charged with murder in connection with Afoa's death but they are scheduled to be prosecuted in a separate trial at a later date.

According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Newark police Officer Dan Anderson, the event that sparked the chain of events that led to Afoa's death was when Afoa beat up Tovar at Tovar's home at 12:28 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2010.

Tovar was so badly beaten up by Afoa that he eventually had to be taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley for treatment, Anderson said.

Tovar later learned that Afoa had been bragging about beating him up and Tovar felt "great embarrassment" because he was a member of the Norteno gang and was much older than Afoa, according to Anderson.

On Oct. 30, six weeks after the first incident, Tovar plotted to attack Afoa at a party at 36187 Cedar Blvd. in Newark, Anderson said.

Afoa was assaulted with a beer bottle and a friend of his suffered "numerous severe stab wounds" but no arrests were made because the people involved in the incident were uncooperative with police, according to Anderson.

Guzman later admitted that she had set up Afoa to be assaulted at the party in retaliation for the beating of Tovar, her brother, although she refused to disclose who the assailants were, according to Anderson.

Anderson said Tovar eventually admitted that he stabbed Afoa about five times on Dec. 15, 2010, and estimated that Howard also stabbed Afoa about five times.

"Stop and Enjoy the Fillmore"

An exhibit of a dozen life-size bronze sculptures received a warm welcome at a community reception in San Francisco's Fillmore District Thursday afternoon.

The 12 pieces forming the installation "Stop and Enjoy the Fillmore" by octogenarian sculptor Seward Johnson have been placed along Fillmore Street between Eddy Street and Geary Boulevard and in front of various buildings and at Gene Sutton Plaza in the heart of the neighborhood.

Many school children interacted with four of the sculptures at the plaza, including one of a realistic-looking hot dog vendor titled, "Relish, Too?" and "Coming Home," depicting a military dad embracing his daughter.

The most popular statue at the plaza was a pair of mariachi men with life-size guitars with real strings that were being plucked and played by viewers.

The hot dog sculpture is making its premiere in San Francisco, while the other pieces have been part of a tour in 12 other American cities.

The installment will stay in the neighborhood for the next six months, project officials said.

The series is a collaborative effort between the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Sculpture Foundation and the office of Supervisor London Breed.

Amy Cohen, director of Neighborhood Business Development for San Francisco, said the project gives tourists, visitors and others another reason to come to the Fillmore and walk around.

Funding for the project came, in part, from city funding set aside for neighborhood improvement, and organizers were able to get the $60,000 worth of sculptures for about $15,000 on a half-year loan. Melanie Green, one of the project's leaders, said she thinks the art will be a boon to the neighborhood.

"I really care about this community," she said. "This will allow folks to enjoy what we have in this community."

She said she hopes tour buses that go through the neighborhood to show the area's jazz history will now have a reason to stop and let visitors explore.

The Rev. Arnold Townsend from the Without Walls Church said the Fillmore community is excited to have the interactive art spring up on their streets.

"We always never end up with these type of exhibits in our community," the pastor said. "We get forgotten by the city."

He said he believes the installment is already a success because "it's sparked debate and commentary."

"Let them inspire you today," he said.

The afternoon gathering included a children's group singing African songs, arts and crafts and actual hot dogs to eat, making for some confusion next to the simulacrum.

An information center at 1309 Fillmore St. has been set up for visitors to see how the bronze sculptures are made.

Santa Clara County Bomb Squad Removes Explosives

The Santa Clara County sheriff's bomb squad used explosives to blow up three Chinese-made World War II-era hand grenades outside a home near San Jose Thursday afternoon, a sheriff's spokesman said.

At about 2 p.m., the bomb team blew up the grenades inside a makeshift bunker they dug in the front yard of a home in the Cambrian Park neighborhood, sheriff's Deputy Kurtis Stenderup said.

The deputies had decided that the military grenades, made in China before the end of World War II, were too unstable to transport to another location, Stenderup said.

The grenades were found in a box inside a home in the 15000 block of Chelsea Drive in unincorporated San Jose by a caregiver who was cleaning the home after its owner had died recently, Stenderup said.

The caregiver made an emergency call at about 10:30 a.m. and deputies responded, along with the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Stenderup said.

Deputies evacuated residents from surrounding homes and firefighters shut the gas off to the home as a precaution, Stenderup said.

Firefighters and other emergency responders were assigned to a command post nearby, Stenderup said.

People in the neighborhood and the news media stood by and watched the controlled explosion, Stenderup said.

Oakland Police Sergeant Sues School District

An Oakland Unified School District police sergeant has sued the agency in federal court, claiming that officials tried to coerce him to change his version of an incident in which his partner fatally shot a 20-year-old man outside a school dance in 2011.

The lawsuit filed by Jonathan Bellusa in U.S. District Court in Oakland Wednesday also charges that the district retaliated against him for complaining about allegedly racist remarks by former district police Chief Pete Sarna.

Sarna resigned in September 2011 amid an investigation of allegations that he made racist remarks to Bellusa and another sergeant at an off-duty golf outing the previous July. In his resignation letter, he apologized for his "hurtful words."

In the fatal incident on Jan. 22, 2011, Bellusa's partner, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt, shot and killed Raheim Brown, 20, as he sat in a car outside a community center where students from Skyline High School were having their winter ball.

Bellusa's lawsuit claims that "OUSD officials and their attorneys have attempted to coerce Sgt. Bellusa into conforming his account of the shooting of Raheim Brown to that of Sgt. Bhatt."

In particular, the lawsuit says, Bellusa "has questioned whether it was necessary for Sgt. Bhatt to have fired a second volley of approximately five shots at Mr. Brown some seconds after his first two shots."

The lawsuit alleges that unfair retaliation against Bellusa has included placing him on administrative leave in August 2011, accusing him of lying, subjecting him to an unwarranted internal affairs investigation and ordering him to submit to repeated and unwarranted fitness-for-duty examinations.

The lawsuit asks for a compensatory and punitive financial award. District spokesman Troy Flint, who said Bellusa is now on unpaid administrative leave, denied the allegations.

"The lawsuit is frivolous, false and defamatory," Flint said.

Bellusa is "quite cynically taking advantage of people's natural concern about police misconduct and using that in a case where it does not exist," the spokesman said.

The case was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Corley of San Francisco and is scheduled for a case management conference on Oct. 5.

Man Charged With Assault Acquitted of All Charges

A man accused of throwing a bottle at a police officer following the San Francisco Giants' World Series win last October has been acquitted of all charges, according to the public defender's office.

Jusef Nathan, 34, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and assault on a police officer with force likely to cause great bodily injury for the incident early on Oct. 29 near 16th and Mission streets in San Francisco's Mission District.

Nathan was one of thousands of Giants fans who took to the streets to celebrate following the World Series-clinching win on Oct. 28, according to the public defender's office.

Shortly after midnight, an officer saw a man with a dark jacket with gray stripes on the sleeves throw a bottle toward police.

The bottle shattered on the ground and did not injure anyone, public defender's officials said.

About 20 minutes later, the same officer spotted Nathan, who was wearing a similar-looking jacket, urinating against a building and arrested him on suspicion of throwing the bottle, according to the public defender's office.

During the weeklong trial, a surveillance video shown to jurors apparently contradicted testimony from officers at the scene about the bottle-thrower's location, according to the public defender's office.

Nathan was in custody for the entire eight-month term between his arrest and acquittal.

"The jurors were able to ascertain that there was no reliable evidence against Mr. Nathan," Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a statement.

"It is tragic that this baseball fan, who wanted only to celebrate his home team's historic win, spent eight months in jail for a crime he did not commit."

Marin County Sheriff's Office Searching for Suspect Mountain Bikers

The Marin County Sheriff's Office is trying to locate two young mountain bikers who spooked two horses on a trail last week, causing injuries to two Oakland women who were thrown from their mounts.

The incident happened around 4 p.m. June 20 on a single-track trail intended for horseback riding and hiking in the Indian Tree Open Space Preserve in northwest Novato.

The boys came around a blind turn on the trail from behind the horses, which reared up, according to Monte Kruger, co-owner of Willow Tree Stables at 3777 Vineyard Road in Novato which leases horses.

One of the women, Lisa Zeppegno, 44, suffered three fractures to two lumbar vertebrae and her sternum when she was thrown from her horse, Kruger said.

The other woman, Nicole Devito, 47, suffered pain and minor injuries.

The Novato Fire Protection District responded to the incident, Capt. Dmitri Menzel said.

Paramedics drove a 4-wheel drive pickup down a fire road then hiked down a ridge for about 20 minutes to reach the injured woman.

They requested the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office's helicopter "Henry One" which secured Zeppegno in a stretcher and flew her to an ambulance at the Willow Tree Stables.

Zeppegno was taken to Kaiser Permanente San Rafael Medical Center and has since been released from the hospital.

Zeppegno's horse Coco, an 8-year-old female Belgian quarter horse, ran from the scene and was found the next day.

The horse suffered deep cuts on the nose and under a foreleg, Kruger said.

"She's doing okay. She's out of the woods but will be out of service for a couple of months," Kruger said Thursday afternoon.

Kruger said the two Oakland women are frequent riders.

A sheriff's office deputy assigned to the Marin County Parks Open Space District is trying to locate the two boys who were illegally riding bikes on the trail, Lt. Jamie Scardina said. 

Kruger said the deputy told her Thursday he was canvassing the neighborhood near the Indian Tree Preserve.

Speeding bicycles on the trails are a constant problem in the county, Kruger said.

In the wake of the incident, Marin County Parks has received and is considering public comment about promoting safe use of trails by equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers, parks director Linda Dahl said.

Bicyclists are prohibited from riding on Open Space District trails except on fire protection roads, designated pathways or public roads that don't prohibit bicycles, Dahl said.

Dahl said despite a campaign against trail use and increased enforcement, "a select few risk takers continue to ignore county ordinances and put themselves and fellow trail users in danger."

"We have some good leads and we continue to investigate," Dahl said. "The goal is holding the bicyclists accountable. We work very closely with the sheriff's office and we are receiving assistance from them on this matter."

On July 23, the Marin County Parks and Open Space Commission will hold a joint session with the Marin County Board of Supervisors, which serves as the open space district's board of directors.

They will discuss a Road and Trail Management Plan/Environmental Impact Report that presents new policies and a framework to improve safety, enjoyment, fairness and resource protection in Marin County's preserves, Dahl said.

The county has held 10 public hearings over the past three years on the plan, Dahl said.

Director of USCIS Discusses Immigration Reform

As the U.S. Congress this week considers immigration reform legislation, a top official in President Barack Obama's administration spoke to a conference of immigration attorneys in San Francisco Thursday about what his agency has done on behalf of the immigrant community.

Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), gave the keynote speech Thursday morning at the annual American Immigrant Lawyers Association conference, which was held this year at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel.

"We are on the threshold of seeing distant dreams become a reality," Mayorkas said.

The director drew loud applause when he discussed deferred action, an executive action taken by President Obama last year that is being implemented by USCIS.

The president ordered immigration officials to exercise prosecutorial discretion and hold off on deportation proceedings for undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and who do not pose a danger to society.

Mayorkas also drew a standing ovation when he discussed the impact on immigrants from Wednesday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in February 2011 announced their views on the unconstitutionality of DOMA, which prohibited the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

Since then, USCIS has kept track of all I-130 forms involving same-sex spouses in the event of the law being struck down, Mayorkas said.

The I-130 forms allow U.S. citizens or lawful residents to petition for a relative to immigrate to the country.

Mayorkas said, "We have much more to do" and asked the immigration attorneys and his federal agency to "work alongside one another and continue to challenge one another."

Mayorkas is a graduate of University of California at Berkeley and has overseen the USCIS since 2009.

Bay Area Weather Report

Mostly cloudy skies and dense patchy fog are likely in the Bay Area this morning, becoming sunny later in the day.

Highs are expected to be in the upper 50s to mid 70s, with southwest winds up to 20 mph in the afternoon. Mostly clear skies are expected this evening.

Lows are likely to be in the 50s, with southwest winds up to 20 mph. Mostly cloudy skies with patchy fog are expected Saturday morning.

Highs are expected to be in the 60s to 70s, with southwest winds up to 20 mph.


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